Changing gears — it might sound like a skill most needed by someone working for a NASCAR team’s pit crew, but it is also an indispensable talent for any poker player. A player’s ability to change gears or alter his style of play from one hand to another is necessary in most styles of poker, but plays an even larger role during tournaments.
Commonly, when someone’s style of play is pegged by the others at the table, a certain level of advantage is lost because it becomes easier for his opponents to predict hands. Most players outside the upper echelon of the poker elite must avoid being accurately labeled or stereotyped.
In the eyes of the others at the table, the average player should avoid getting nailed down to a certain style of play. If a player senses the others feel he is way too loose, then he should expect a fair number of his bluffs to be called. The same holds true for the other extreme. A tight player will find monster hands don’t pay off as much as they should because when he isn’t bet off a hand and stays around for the river, most of his opponents will put him on the goods.
If you are a regular player at a home cash game, your counterparts will usually have a decent feel of your game. So changing gears and occasionally playing hands you otherwise never do can help in most situations. That does not mean a player should throw away the style of play that he is most comfortable with; rather, there is often a large value in entering a hand with rags if none of your opponents believe you would do so.
Say a player uncharacteristically goes to a flop with something resembling 4-9 off-suit. He has the potential to win a large pot if he can find a pair while all low cards lay on the board. Since he is tight, others at the table might not fear him because there are no high cards on the board. They try to bluff him, but little do they realize Mr. Tight is now Mr. Top Pair.
Regularly playing 4-9 is not the most recommended course of action; however, tight players should give it a chance every once in a while when the cost to see the flop is relatively cheap.
Essentially, the key to changing gears is to occasionally implement a different style of play when the others at the table feel like they have you read accurately. The more you get opponents to contemplate about what you could possibly be playing, the better chance you have of them making an incorrect read.
In tournament play, changing gears is extremely important at the beginning and the end. Loose players need to think twice about getting flopitis and playing just about every hand. Sure, they might take down some pots with a stone-cold bluff and feel good about themselves. However, in a highly populated tournament, playing poor cards too much will eventually lead to a player’s demise. With so many opponents, the ultra loose player at the beginning of a tourney runs the unnecessary risk of stumbling into too many highly contested pots with other similarly minded opponents.
Take it easy during the early rounds of a tourney — why risk so much on a lot of pots before the blinds become substantial?
However, come the late rounds when players become so tight because they are holding on to a pay-out position, getting loose will help. Toward the end of a tournament, a tight player will usually punch his exit ticket if he waits solely for premium hands. Don’t be afraid to mix it up in the late rounds. Be a little loose and rely more on your ability to bluff opponents rather than wait just for the nuts.
Just like an actor that doesn’t want to be typecast, the same holds true for poker players. The more varying roles you can play, the better chances of future pay days.